The noose is tightening, the light is dimming and the death knells are getting louder with every passing week.
The shaky semblance of a democratic society some people may have dreamt of in Tanzania is being shut down before our very eyes, and very few people seem to be able to raise the alarm.
In the early 1990s, when the whole world was awakening to a renewed quest for better and more inclusive governance dispensations in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall, we had reason to hope that Tanzania, alongside many African countries, was opening a new page of greater people participation in the running of their country’s affairs.
The re-establishment of multiparty politics, long forbidden under the single-party hegemony that covered the whole continent, seemed to herald that new era where multiple voices would be heard. It almost felt like the old adage of letting a thousand flowers blossom and a thousand thoughts contend.
Today all that looks like a chimera, something fashioned out of a waking dream with no connection to reality. Tanzania has steadfastly slid back into tyranny and the worst type of the Big Man syndrome we have ever experienced, even we who are of a certain age.
A district governor visits a school and subjects the teachers to an impromptu quiz. He asks teachers to mention his name, among other nonsensical questions. A teacher refuses — or fails — to answer, and he gets remanded in custody for this transgression.
Another governor pursues an unruly schoolboy who is accused of damaging his car. At the boy’s home he finds the boy’s father and proceeds to beat up the old man thoroughly, just to teach him something about parenting.
In another district, a governor is unhappy with the answers given by a citizen, and what does she do? She boxes the ears of the peasant to make him a better citizen. In yet another district, a governor takes it upon himself to uproot expensive irrigation equipment servicing the modern farm of the leader of the opposition.
An opposition MP is arrested on charges of attending a rally outside her constituency, which has become a “crime” in Tanzania since President John Magufuli issued a fiat requiring politicians to hold rallies only in their constituencies and nowhere else, no matter that the rally attended by this particular woman was organised by a fellow MP from her party.
There is an endless parade of opposition leaders entering and exiting police stations to answer to laughable charges, and the police show no qualms about arresting legislators and keeping them incommunicado for as long as they, the police, wish. Somebody has suggested that at this rate the opposition might as well establish sub-offices at police stations.
Tundu Lissu, that nemesis of President Magufuli, has been arrested again and his house has been searched for the nth time. For what? He is accused of accusing Magufuli of having occasioned the loss of many billions of shillings by his actions when he was a cabinet minister.
President Magufuli will have to bear the blame for the actions of those serving under him. He has publicly encouraged local governors to lock up people who disagree with them; now they are caning them into the bargain.
The preventive detention law is an anachronistic piece of legislation dating from the days of the authoritarian regimes of Kwame Nkrumah and Julius Nyerere. President Magufuli has made that a central activity of his officers in the districts.
PLO Lumumba praises
It is bound to get even tougher in a country that has gone eight months without a Chief Justice, something never heard of before. The man who has been “acting” as CJ must be wondering what he needs to do to get confirmed.
Parliament is a caricature of itself as President Magufuli takes pleasure in giving instructions to the Speaker on how to deal with “troublesome” MPs and the Speaker does as he is told.
The media, traditionally tame and timid, has been taken to the gallows with the new fangled Media Services Act which criminalises libel and imposes stiff prison terms for media misdemeanours. A Gulag has installed itself in Tanzania.
That is something Prof PLO Lumumba does not know and isn’t interested in knowing. As he continues to sing his praises of the Tanzanian president, Lumumba speaks out of ignorance and does us grievous injury.
Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: [email protected]